Once upon a time, I was planning to call this article "Steve's Fantasm Review."  Then I remembered I was only one of the several "Steves" and decided to write under my email handle.  I don't plan to change my real name to "Yakdog Hogflenser" until after I make my first billion and use it (the billion $, not my real name) to purchase a small Caribbean country for my own foul purposes.  Anyway, let me begin this review with a warning about my undisciplined writing style: I am going to ramble, philosophize, go off on tangents, ignore several rules of grammar (but probably not rules of spelling), and make far too many parenthetical statements (as you can see, this trend has already started).  My sense of humor is sometimes a bit dry, and I don't plan to insert smiling faces or glowing arrows to help people "get it."  (See the third sentence of  this paragraph for an example.)  If you get tired of reading, the internet is full of entertaining sites (such as and you know where the "back" button on your browser is.  For those of you who aren't quite ready to pick out synthetic hamster companions, read on.



    Fantasm took place in scenic Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Greenville-Spartanburg is going through an interesting transition: thanks to BMW and its many local suppliers, the area is having an economic boom, but many of the people who live there are still somewhat provincial.  They drive on paved roads, use indoor plumbing, and probably don't have sex with their sisters very often, but they have written some laws that can take a little getting used to.   For example, no one is allowed to buy anything before 1:30pm on Sunday.  I'm usually not too shrill about the separation of church and state, but this interesting bit of local color just rubs me the wrong way.  I mean, really--what would I do if the edible body lotion ran out on an active Sunday morning?  Wait until 1:30 to order out for more and lose the mood?  What would Stalin do?  What would Pinochet do?   What, dear reader, would you do?  Some lawmakers just don't have any consideration for the needs of the common people.

    Here's another puzzling law: Spartanburg liquor stores close at 7:00pm.  To me, this implies that I can call in sick, wander down to the Booze Emporium at 10:00am on a sunny Wednesday morning, and get roaring drunk with the greatest of ease.  The lunch-break possibilities are also intriguing; with the help of a few breath mints, I could while away a boring workday afternoon in a happily fuzzy haze.  However, if I forget to buy my evil demon liquor before sundown, I can still get my nasty sinner's claws on it--but I will have to pay triple price for it in a bar or shot house.  (If you don't already know what a shot house is, you don't ever want to.)  I have usually found that the amenities of civilization increase in direct proportion to the availability of good liquor and decrease in direct proportion to the availability of family bowling alleys.  This rule of thumb works well in the Chicagoland area: in downtown, you'll find the Museum of Art, the Symphony, the Field Museum, some truly amazing architecture, an incredible assortment of restaurants, shops, galleries, and parks--accompanied by (you guessed it!) more booze than you can shake a stick at, and not one single bowling alley.  I looked.  In the outlying suburbs, you'll find, well, civic centers:"Tonight Only!  Monster Truck Pull!", a bizarre patchquilt of liquor laws, and far, far, far too many bowling venues.  Try it on your town!



   Here's how much I loved this con: I flew in from O'Hare airport in Chicagoland and took a connecting flight through Detroit to reach I could work registration.  If that's not love, I don't know what is.  I arrived safely at Spartanburg's recently-remodeled (BMW $ at work!) little airport on Thursday afternoon, then paid entirely too much money for a shuttle ride to the hotel.  Paying for airport transportation is always the martyr's cross for the first person in: when flying to a distant land, try to find some way to share cab fare!  In any case, my ride was pleasant enough; the driver filled me in on some local happening, how much Spartanburg has changed, etc.

    Shortly after I strolled into the hotel lobby, I encountered the Reverend Maynard of "Jonestown After Dark" fame.   He had the originals of his revolutionary propaganda in hand and left for Kinko's to make copies for the masses shortly after I first saw him.  After the Reverend went out to walk up and down the Earth, I met one of the hotel managers.  She guessed I was with the con (black leather trenchcoats are common Winter garb in Chicago, but they have different connotations south of the Mason-Dixon line) and asked me if I was on staff.   I cautiously replied that I was and explained I was working registration.  She let me know the police (of the standard and anti-consensual-crime varieties) and the media (print and film) were curious about the convention.  I did my best to put her fears to rest.  By the way, at the risk of spoiling this review's drama, I should tell you the convention was not "raided."  In fact, security did not have to shut down a single party.  Anyone who gets carried away with rants about Spartanburg's provincialism and the shortcomings of its police should keep this in mind.

    After my chat with the manager, I decided to sample the hotel restaurant's cuisine.  While I was chowing down, I spotted Chris and Marty (of and sauntered over to say "howdy."  Although they also hail from Chicagoland, they live in the city and I live in the 'burbs.  If I visit them, I have to fight traffic for an hour, then trade my firstborn for parking.  If they visit me, they're in the 'burbs, and who the Hell would want to be there?  Not this kid!  Anyway, Chris and Marty proved the South doesn't have a monopoly on hospitality; they invited me up to their room for a drink--no, not the "let's look at my etchings" kind of drink, the kind of drink where "you drink your drink and say good night."   Moving right along...

    As the rest of the con staff, the first wave of dealers, and a few guests (camgirls, mostly--including Dawn Marie of, who I have actually known in RL for...well, long enough to make me feel fairly old, which, I suppose, is also long enough to make her fanatical followers just a little bit jealous!) began to arrive, something resembling a party began to form.  I suppose it would have been a party in the mundane world, but my jaded standards are a bit higher (or is that lower?) than those of the typical Yankee running dog, so I'll call it a gathering.  Anyway, the gathering had people, booze, music, photography, mild exhibitionism, a bit of groping (pesky camgirls, always tripping over each other!), and a few rounds of body shots (mighty tasty!).  After this went on for a while, most of us got hungry.  Fortunately, South Carolina does believe in serving food after dark, so we drove across the street to a local grill.  At this point, we had some interaction with the locals.



    About a dozen of us went to the restaurant.  I felt like part of a typical late-night crowd until we actually walked into the building.  The customers inside were all poor: a few exploded nuclear families (black, if it matters to you) and two tables of big 'ol pork eatin' redneck ruffians.  I heard at least one person in the crowd exclaim, "Damn!" as we opened the door.  We could almost hear the "fight or flight" gears of the crowd grinding their way to a decision.

    By the way, as a group, we didn't look too abnormal: we were wearing more square feet of leather per person than the locals, but our hair was in natural colors and fairly ordinary styles.  Oh, sure, some people had facial piercings (eek!), some of the women were scantily clad (not a single exposed nipple--and no, they weren't covered with duct tape.  That came later (yes, Cloei of, that's you--and there's your shameless website plug!), some of the men were a bit on the tall side (I'm 6'2"; two of the other guys were 6'4" or so); we were happily buzzed and chatty.  It isn't as if we were horribly beweaponed and howling for blood, for crying out loud!  Anyway, the customers came to the collective realization that they were outnumbered.  Within five minutes, everyone packed up and left.  The restaurant was ours!

    In the halcyon days of my youth, I would have counted this inadvertent intimidation of "the mundanes" as a famous victory, perhaps worthy of a commemorative plaque--or at least a limited-edition T-shirt.   In a way, I suppose it was a victory; a smaller, weaker group of "different" people probably would have had to deal with hostile stares and "overheard" insults from the bubbaboys; "talkin' smart" under such conditions could easily have led to a one-sided parking lot massacre.  Perhaps the locals deserved a quick change of norms, but I would have been happier if everyone could have just shared the space and enjoyed themselves.  Ack.  I'm getting old and sentimental.  Anyway, after we finished eating, we requested our wakeup calls and turned in for the night.



   We began our Friday by holding an 8:00am meeting with the hotel management.  Since I usually start work at 7:00am, I still felt as if I'd gotten to sleep in.  Pleasure is a relative thing, not an absolute.   Anyway, the staff meeting went very well; most of the management had attitudes ranging from professional to enthusiastic.  The convention directors had thought ahead: they had asked the hotel to adjust the restaurant hours and menu, have room service start work later--much later--than usual, arranged for extra trash cans, and so on.   Many of us can probably recall what unmodified room service is like:



The scene:[A hotel room, dimly lit by the rosy rays of dawn filtering through the gap in those fucking curtains you can never quite close, even with safety pins, especially after sucking down way too many of those innocent-looking little drinks.  The room is populated by Sleeping Forms 1, 2, 3, and 4, buried under mounds of blankets, and Comatose Form 1, who drew the short straw and ended up under the sink.]

[From stage left, a sudden, earth-shattering pounding begins]: BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM! "Housekeeping!"

[Forms 1-4 stir and groan.  Comatose Form begins to snore loudly.]

[The pounding quickens remorselessly.]: BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM!  "House...keeping!"

[Forms 1-4 twitch; a chorus of impolite nouns and verbs, accompanied by plenty of incoherent bitching and moaning, filters from beneath the blankets.  Comatose Form's snoring actually increases in volume.]

[Still more pounding...]:  BOOM!  BOOM!   BOOM!  "Housekeeping!  Y'all need anything?"

Form 1 (weakly): "Go away!"

Housekeeping: "What?"

Form 1 (struggling into semi-consciousness): "Go away!  Come back later!"

Form 2 (quietly): "Yeah, fuck off and die, you evil bitch!  Argh!"

Form 3 (to Form 4): "Hey, I thought you said that drink wouldn't give me a hangover!"

Form 4: "Ugh.  I said what?"

Housekeeping: "When?"

Form 1 (struggling with the concept of time): "Later!  Much later!"

Form 2 (just a little bit louder): "When Hell freezes over, you nasty old cunt!  Dogsucking grumblemumble snarl..."

Form 3: "Hey!  That's my ass!"

Form 4: "Oops.  Didn't we...?"

Housekeeping: "OK, I'll be back in an hour!"

Form 1 (abandoning all hope): "Wait..." [The housekeeper's overloaded cart squeaks and grinds its way down the hall.  The echoes of the housekeeper's enthusiastic pounding on the next door filter into the room.]

Form 2 (sitting bolt upright and staring at Comatose Form with beady, bloodshot eyes): "What the fuck?  Is that bubblegumming dipshit actually snoring?  Shut...up!"

[Meanwhile, Forms 3 and 4 are having an intense, hushed discussion about last night while trying to figure out how thick their beer goggles actually were last night...]

[Form 2 lurches out of bed and staggers across the room towards Comatose Form, cursing steadily.  After staring at Comatose Form for a few long seconds, Form 2 delivers a hearty kick to Comatose Form's ribs. Comatose Form retaliates by puking a charming mix of snack food, beer, wine, several completely different liquors, and an assortment of neon-colored fruit juices onto Form 2's boots.   In other news, the discussion between Forms 3 and 4 becomes considerably more heated as the words "fatass" and "date rape" enter the conversation.  Form 1 burrows into the blankets, whimpering, and seriously considers suicide.]

    Gosh, that was scary!   Fortunately, nothing like this happened to me at Fantasm.  Three cheers for room service that comes after the sun is good and damned well over the proverbial yardarm: Huzzah!  Huzzah!  Huzzah!  OK, back to the review...



   I worked registration from Friday morning until Friday evening.  Still, my shift wasn't quite as long as Nicole's.  Nicole, btw, was undoubtedly the most popular hotel desk clerk at the convention.  Her fashionably pale skin and long, straight, black hair gave her a noticeable "Betty Page" look; she couldn't even take a smoke break without being accosted by photographers.  Nicole, if you're reading this: those guys you suspected were fantasizing about you?  They were.  All of 'em.  Well, all of 'em except me.  Let me take you away from all this madness!  For the sake of your immortal soul, Nicole, flee with me while there's still time!

    Anyway, working registration gave me a chance to see everyone coming into the con, give my ten-second orientation speech, and watch the event build itself from the ground up.  Sometime during the day, perhaps while I was on a meal break, I met up with "Photomoe" (of, the Steve from California.  He's a damned good photographer and one Helluva nice guy, to boot.  Perhaps the Frequent Flyer Gods will smile upon him when next year's con rolls around.

    Since I was trapped behind the registration table, I missed most of the day's events, but I still witnessed some interesting episodes in the wonderful human drama of romance.  I'm in favor of having a "Basic Social Skills" panel at the next con; we could bring in a group of experts to discuss the essential elements of human-human interaction as we know them on this planet.  The panel would probably amuse most of us and possibly instruct a few of us.  I offer the following episode, with the names and dialogue subtly changed to protect the innocent, as an example of life among the socially challenged.



   As I sat behind my registration table, a conversation that vaguely resembled this one occurred:

Fanboy (to Fangirl): "Hey, I'm looking for a girl who'll masking-tape me to a red-hot steam vent, run a cheese grater down my chest, clamp a live car battery to my nipples, and cram poisonous sea anemones up my ass while sewing up my scrotum and playing Sousa marches!"

Fangirl (carefully appearing distracted): "Hmmm....oh, look!  Trees!"

Fanboy (to me): "Hey, she didn't answer my question."

[Fangirl uses this opportunity to sneak away.]

Me: "Hmmm...  Y'know, in some cultures, her reply could be construed as a gentle hint for you to scamper on over to the interstate and play in the traffic." [Ahem.]

Fanboy (downcast): "Huh. (But then, inspiration strikes!)  I know!  I'll just follow her obsessively until somebody ties me down and beats the living, breathing cat butt out of me!" [He scuttles off after Fangirl.]

Me: [Sigh.]

    Interacting with the socially challenged must be more fun than something, but I can't quite think of what that thing might be at the moment.  Of course, I may be applying my own prejudices to the situation, since I've never (well, hardly ever) been one to chase frantically after companionship.  If I happen to stumble into someone who's at least as interested in me as I am in them, so much the better.  If not, there's always booze, conversation, and the sure, certain knowledge that I can seduce myself and take myself home later.   Hey, I even know what I like!  Watching folks get worked up over someone they obviously aren't going to hook up with--or someone they're frantic to stay hooked up with, for whatever reason--is worth doing for the chuckles, isn't it?

    Well, now that I've strung you along for a while, I should probably take the next logical step and actually review the convention.  I'm going to borrow the old "Con-Tour" rating system, but I'll go into a bit more detail than Con-Tour's space allowed.  Here we go!




PARTIES: *****+.  Gosh, that was a tough call.   The parties stayed open until the wee hours of the morning, provided a fine playground for the fans, and left the hotel reasonably intact.  When the dust from the weekend's romping and frolicking settled, Fantasm left less of a mess than the Baptist convention that had gone before us.  As I said earlier, security did not have to close a single party down.  Some of the other Fantasm reviewers give point by point descriptions of the many fine party themes; I won't re-invent the wheel by analyzing every party in this review.  However, I do want to give a quick list of the things I look for in a convention party:

* Creative Advertising:  Here's an example: "The Altered States of Jonestown" handed out small "passports", complete with tantalizing hints about the "Jonestown Secret Police Rumpus Room", as party invitations.

* Theme: Pick a theme and go all the way with it.   Everyone did damned well on this score; all the parties I visited has costumes, decorations, background videos and/or music, etc.

* Booze: Have a good, fast drink and don't run out of it.  Everyone gets beaucoup stars on this point!

* Food: Food is a beautiful thing, especially when 3:00am rolls around and your stomach realizes you haven't fed it any solids since 6:00pm.   Admittedly, food can also be messy: choose your munchies carefully and place them well.  Those parties who had food did a decent job of controlling it.

* Traffic Flow: Folks, those hotel beds may be fun to romp around on, but those of us who are desperately trying to shove through to the wet bar just aren't that fond of them.  The Jonestowners were kind enough to use two rooms for their party, while the Pirates actually had sofas around the perimeter of their room.   Kudos, guys!

* Entertainment: While the Altered States of Jonestown may have lost the party battles, their Machine was undoubtedly the most popular non-organic attraction on the second floor party circuit.  Music that didn't suck, coupled with creative lighting, was yet another popular entertainment theme.

Right--that's enough arbitrary advice for one article.   On to the next category:

GUESTS: ***.  By my personal standards, the guests rated five stars because they were easy to work with, played with the fans, and had a great time themselves while making the con more fun for everyone who attended.   However, for those who care, these guests were not media multi-millionaires or elder statesmen--thus, the slightly lower rating.

EVENTS: ***. I attended the following events: con-coction contest ("For every 15 votes this drink receives, Maggie will remove an article of clothing!"), slave auction (enthusiastic participation by everyone involved, fast-paced bidding, and an actual charity donation!), gong show (in which our doubting judges found that the innocent-looking little pepper was, indeed, "fucking hot!"), party battles (duh...), dating game (in which we all heard a theory about just how spicy Dawn Marie's cho-cho really is), costume contest (if dental floss ever needs a product spokesmodel, I have just the woman for them!), beautiful barefoot contest (with enthusiastic thanks to guest Dennis Cramer), and Norman Sinclair's adult comedy (great act: a nod to Wolf for "No, man.  It's a con." & a double nod to the Jesters for their skilled and courteous "heckling.").  All of them were entertaining--and they actually ran on schedule!  Go figure.  If daytime event attendance had been higher, I would have thrown in a fourth star.  Those of you who spend all day in a coma-like slumber, make a mental note of that!

STAFF: *****, if I do say so myself.  Actually, since I was working registration, judging parties, and helping with the Sunday feedback panel, I'm probably biased.  Read through the other reviews and see what the fans have to say about our staff.  So far, it's been pretty damned good.  Just as an aside, Fantasm is trying to be the kind of con our staff would like to attend as fans--and one of the things we all like to see at a con is a courteous, helpful staff!

COST: ***.  Excellent value on the hotel and memberships; takes a bit of a beating form the isolated airport (connecting flights smell like ass) and the "over $6/meal" restaurant food.  My personal ideas about what constitutes "expensive" food are a bit more forgiving; I ate at the hotel restaurant several times during the weekend and thought it was a good value.   However, I did enjoy the basic Sunday breakfast bar at least as much as I did the fancier Saturday brunch--for less money.  Fans and cheap food go together better than crack and food stamps, folks.  For people from the Southeast who didn't have to fly in, the cost gets four stars--five for people who don't mind eating out of a cooler!

AMENITIES: ****.  Everything I needed.   February isn't pool weather, but I didn't fly all the way to South Carolina just to swim.  I'm leaving the fifth star off because the hotel didn't have a hot tub.   (Good luck to you if you're looking for an SF convention hotel with an open hot tub, friends and neighbors!)

ACTIVITIES/SHOWS: **. One LARP game (Changeling: excellent preparations, outstanding costumes, and run by published writers); the sinful pleasures of the party floor lured the fans away from the gaping maw of Cthulhu LARP.   One of the other reviewers has photographic proof that dread Cthulhu himself devoured those rash enough to play the tabletop game.  The Shadow Players put on a fine show; so did "As The Fishnet Runs" (even though I'm not sure if Rocky Horror is an activity, a show, or an event...).  The two-star rating comes from the light turnout for daytime activities--though this tends to be a common problem at cons with a high party rating.

DEALER'S ROOM: **. Some duplicate merchandise. (Three directors meet in a bar.  All speak at the same time: "Hey, I found this great video dealer...")  One group did very well for itself by selling vampire fangs, jewelry, and leather garments.  Other dealers had more window-shoppers than buyers.   Not to worry, the folks running the con are already laboring to improve next year's mix.

ORGANIZATION: ****.  Programming ran one hour late on Friday; Saturday's programming actually ran on time!  Staff members were always available; security was convenient to events without being overly obtrusive.  Of course, as I've said before, I did work registration, and am therefore an evil running-dog minion of the con--please check Fantasm's feedback column and the other review to find the fans' comments about the con's organization.

PERV FACTOR: *****. Yep.  Not a doubt in my mind.   I've got the pictures to prove it.  So do the other reviews.  Just mosey on over and take a look.  btw, Fantasm's "pervs" were a very self-confident bunch; I didn't feel surrounded by people who'd been reading some kind of "How to Be a Loner and a Rebel" handbook. ("Uh, let's see, if I get a couple of stock tattoos, the standard piercings, and an overpriced designer wardrobe, I can finally display my individuality--just like everyone else!")

NERD FACTOR: *.  As usual, this was inversely proportionate to the average of the "perv factor" and "parties" ratings.  I don't think I saw a single "Crack: The Addiction" card all weekend.  Whoo-hoo!



  I flew down from Chicago to attend this convention; on the flight back, I was trapped on a Detroit runway in a plane full of plague-stricken people from around the world and picked up a real bastard of a lung infection.  As I write my first draft, I'm still coughing up chunks and punching credit card receipts into Quicken.  Y'know what?  Fantasm was worth all the trouble and expense.  I'll be back next year, with (metaphorical) bells on--hope to see you there!

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